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The first leg of the Champions League qualifiers: Frankfurt draw and Sturm Graz celebrations |  European League

The first leg of the Champions League qualifiers: Frankfurt draw and Sturm Graz celebrations | European League

In the first leg of the UEFA Europa League knockout round qualifier, Eintracht Frankfurt secured a strong starting position in the second leg with a draw against Union SG. Sturm Graz had reason to celebrate after their clear win over Slovan Bratislava.

UEFA.com summarizes Thursday's matches.

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Union SG – Frankfurt 2:2

Fares Al-Chaibi gave Frankfurt the lead at Union SGBelga/AFP via Getty Images

The visitors got off to the perfect start and took a 2-0 lead after just ten minutes after goals from Fares Chaibi and Sasa Kalajdzic. The hosts found it difficult to get into the game, but after a mistake by Elias Sakhiri, they were able to go close through Matthias Rasmussen before the end of the first half.

In the second half only Union SG played and Gustav Nilsson scored a deserved equalizer to make it 2-2. After Charles Vanhout was sent off, Eintracht played with the advantage for just over ten minutes, but there was no chance of scoring another goal.

Real Betis – Dinamo Zagreb 0-1

Bruno Petkovic scored the winning goal for Dinamo

Bruno Petkovic scored the winning goal for DinamoGetty Images

A second-half penalty from Bruno Petkovic gave the Croatian champions a narrow victory in Seville. Clear scoring opportunities were reduced until Betis defender Riyad took a handball inside the penalty area in the second half, and the visitors had the opportunity to settle the match from a penalty kick.

Petkovic took charge and slotted the ball past goalkeeper Rui Silva to score the only goal of the match. Betis striker Willian Jose had the opportunity to equalize in the final minutes, but his beautiful free kick failed to hit the post.

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Ajax – Bodo/Glimt 2:2

Albert Gronback scored the opening goal in Amsterdam

Albert Gronback scored the opening goal in AmsterdamANP via Getty Images

Captain Steven Berghuis scored an equalizer in stoppage time to save Ajax from a draw against the Norwegian visitors. Albert Gronbaek set Bodø/Glimt on the winning path in the 16th minute before scoring a brace an hour later to extend the lead.

In stoppage time, events reached their climax. First, Branko van den Boomen shortened the score from the penalty spot after substitute Odin Bjortoft was sent off for a challenge on Brian Brobbey, before Berghuis scored a famous equalizer shortly before the final whistle.

Sturm Graz – Slovan Bratislava 4:1

Storm did not need any warm-up time and took the lead in the fourth minute with a goal from Mika Perez. The visitors were not shocked by this and equalized shortly afterward through Jerson Rodriguez. Before half-time, John Stankovic scored to make it 2-1 to the Austrians.

The hosts continued their dominance in the second half, raising the score to 3-1 through Utar Ketishvili. After Slovan's Vladimir Weiss was sent off, Sturm's Amadi Camara got the final point in an entertaining match.

What then?

The return match will be held on February 22. The winners will participate in the Round of 16 draw on February 23, where they will be unseeded.

The ranked teams are Aston Villa (England), Club Brugge (Belgium), Fenerbahce (Turkey), Fiorentina (Italy), Los C Lille (France), Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel), PAOK (Greece), Viktoria Plzeň (Czech Republic).

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What else happened?

• Ayoub El Kaabi's late winner put Olympiacos in good stead in the second leg against Ferencvaros.

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• Molde almost settled for a draw against Legia, despite taking a 3-0 lead after 24 minutes thanks to a brace from Frederik Gulbrandsen. Jose's strike and Rafael Augustiniak's header seven minutes into the second half ensured a thrilling finish, but the home side held on for the win.

• Seven of the eight matches either ended in a draw or were won by only one goal.

What are the playoff matches in the knockout round?

16 teams participate in the qualifiers for the knockout round of the UEFA Europa Conference League: the eight teams that finished second in the UEFA Europa Conference League group and the eight teams that finished third in the UEFA Europa League.

The matches will be decided on a return leg basis and end on February 22. The away goals rule has been abolished. The eight winners will participate in the round of 16 draw on February 23 (the eight group winners have already qualified for this). The 2023/24 European Cup season is over for the eight losers.